EGX is back again, and this time it was a slightly meatier event than the condensed show of 2021. That said, this is still not EGX at full strength. Compared with the pre-pandemic EGX 2019, the show is still a shadow of its former self, much smaller and less crowded than in the past. The big publishers were noticeable by their absence: no Sony booth, no Microsoft booth, no Ubisoft, no EA… the list goes on. Nintendo had a small presence with a block of Switches playing Splatoon 3, there was a walled off area for Modern Warfare II, and Sega had a big booth showing off Sonic Frontiers – but there wasn’t much else beyond this when it came to the major publishers.
It worries me. It seems that the big players are now content to present their latest games via online presentations, and feel little need to put their wares in the hands of the public. Why bother with the expense of attending a live show, when it’s cheaper to make a digital presentation that can reach far more people? Perhaps the writing is on the wall for big shows like this – we’ve already seen the behemoths of the industry slowly withdraw from E3 as the years roll by. But I hope this is a temporary lull rather than a sign of things to come, as it would be a massive shame if shows like EGX dwindled away to nothing. They’re such an important place for like-minded folk to gather, exchange news and share in the excitement the games industry has to offer. And part of me simply wonders whether the big publishers’ no-show was because very few of them have anything of note coming out in the next few months. The paucity of AAA titles releasing in the run up to Christmas 2022 is really quite unprecedented.
Still, the indie games were the ones I was most interested in at EGX, and I’m pleased to say there were a few crackers that caught my eye. Below is my pick of the bunch.
Dome Keeper is out on 27 September, and it was some of the most fun I had at EGX. It’s a survival game with a neat mechanic. Your ship crashes onto a planet, leaving a dome sticking out of the ground, and your task is to excavate below the planet’s surface to uncover the precious minerals and other goodies below. But every now and then, waves of hostile creatures will attack the dome – and if they manage to destroy it, it’s game over.
The enemies get more powerful with each wave, so you’re in a race against time to beef up your dome’s defensive and offensive capabilities using the resources you mine out from underneath. The upgrades for your dome include better laser cannons and stronger glass, but you can also upgrade your tools and abilities to make mining quicker. It’s a brilliant game of fast decisions and efficient movement: as you watch the timer tick down to the next attacking wave, you’re constantly trying to judge whether you have time to head back to the surface to man the laser cannons. Do you go deeper in search of better resources and upgrades, and risk missing the start of the wave? Or do you head back now and hope that the defences you already have will hold up? It’s tense stuff.
Ninja or Die
Ninja or Die reminded me a lot of the excellent Dandara in that you can’t move, only jump – but this is a far more frantic game. You attack by jumping through enemies, and levels see you zipping back and forth between walls, taking down foes while attempting to dodge projectiles and other hazards. It’s fast and incredibly satisfying, but also pretty damn difficult, especially when things like floor spikes and swinging axes are introduced. Yet despite the difficulty – or perhaps because of it – I had a hard time pulling myself away from the demo. Ninja or Die delivers that ‘just one more go’ factor by the truckload.
The Siege and the Sandfox
I was delighted to discover that The Siege and the Sandfox is by Olly Bennett, who I interviewed a couple of years’ back for a feature on DigitalCity in Middlesborough, where he’s based. The game is a Metroidvania with a twist, in that it’s all about stealth: the aim is to get through levels without being seen by hanging off ledges, shimmying up columns and generally skulking about in the shadows. It makes for some tense gameplay as you try to edge past monsters and guards, with no way to defend yourself if caught. There’s a strong Prince of Persia vibe to it all – in terms of both the original Jordan Mechner game and Sands of Time – along with some gorgeous pixel art.
The Wings of Sycamore
John Evelyn was behind The Collage Atlas, which I picked out as a highlight of EGX Rezzed 2019, and now he’s back with a new game that’s a cross between Pilotwings and Prop Cycle. The aim in The Wings of Sycamore is to guide rickety looking flying machines around a city to perform various tasks, like collecting objects or snapping photos, and it’s all done in John’s signature paper-art style. The flight controls feel great, but it’s still at an incredibly early stage right now, so don’t expect to see a release date any time soon. No Steam page yet, but you can follow John on Twitter.
Eros Xavier’s Love Solutions
One of the most novel game concepts I saw at EGX was Eros Xavier’s Love Solutions, which the developer billed as a cross between the naughtiness of Untitled Goose Game and the rearranging gameplay of Unpacking. The idea is that Cupid has got tired of getting folks together, and instead has set up an agency where people can ask him to split people up. He does that by wandering into a couple’s home and messing with their stuff in order to get them to argue with one another – so he might rearrange a prized aeroplane collection, throw away important papers or use a favourite mug. Like The Wings of Sycamore, this is super early in development and there’s no Steam page yet, but you can follow the game on Twitter.
Abriss: Build to Destroy
The simple hook of Abriss: Build to Destroy is smashing stuff up in a supremely satisfying way, causing gigantic edifices to disintegrate into thousands of tiny fragments. You do this by constructing various demolition machines/towers using a preset number of pieces, such as pillars, connectors and bombs, then sit back and watch the chaos ensue. Essentially it’s a puzzle game where you have to work out how to use the pieces you’ve been assigned in the most efficient way possible, but it’s a puzzle game with a wonderfully explosive solution.
Planet of Lana
Planet of Lana had a massive spot on the Thunderful stand, and it’s been featured on various livestreams and shows in the past year, so this one is already likely to be on your radar. I can confirm that it looks gorgeous, and the gameplay revolves around solving gentle puzzles with your little cat/monkey friend – in fact, it reminded me a lot of LUNA: The Shadow Dust, but where this is a platformer rather than a point and click. I’m intrigued to play more.